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How To Defend In Sim Racing

GT3 class racing iRacing

Defending your racing position is a critical skill to learn to win races and championships. Making a poorly thought-out defensive move can be a high-risk thing to do, unfortunately, in sim racing, there are fewer consequences to poor racecraft (except of course, a DNF).

While we’ve looked at how to execute a good overtake, and how to drive on the optimal racing line, today we will look at critical elements to running a good racing defense.

I’ve seen some crazy, pointless weaving in both real Motorsport and the simulator. I guarantee that every single time, one or both of you will come out of the attempted overtake badly. Bad defending costs time and risks a DNF. If you want to progress in sim racing and grow your iRating and SR in iRacing, you’ve got to master this skill.

iRacing - the new Clio Cup series will be hard racing
iRacing – the new Clio Cup series will be hard racing

So, what makes a good racing defence?

1)  It’s a proactive move (you’re predicting your opponent’s line before they execute)

2) It’s not done in the braking zone (“the last of the late brakers” is not a strategy)

The golden rule to defending: If you’re going to defend, make sure you move first, not in reaction to the car behind. If it’s reactive it’s probably too late, and you’re looking behind you, not up the track, so there’s a good chance you’re going to lose a lot of time.

Before you consider defending ask yourself if it’s worth it?

Let’s not forget that, even before you consider mounting a defence, ask yourself is it worth it. If the car behind is visibly faster, why not let them pass in a way that doesn’t cost you time? That way, you can learn from your opponent (there’s always a next time) and you can gain a time advantage by hanging in their tow. And you never know they might make a mistake later in the race!

two Ferraris battling at Brands Hatch

Respectful, non-contact sim racing

Something that is so important to remember with defensive racing is that ideally, you’ll do it in a respectful way. Motorsport is a non-contact sport (as we’re always briefed at the start of a race weekend). Any contact in real life can have serious and damaging consequences. Also, it takes too much away from the art of race craft, something that good drivers understand there’s a real sense of joy to.

So, in today’s post we’re going to look at defending basics, without making contact or making mistakes that cost you time and track position.

One defensive move

A key element of defensive race craft is this: you should make one single defensive change of direction.

So if you’re on the racing line, and you can see the car behind is gaining pace on you, it’s OK to move to a more defensive line, perhaps covering the inside of a corner.

But, a single move is the rule. Once you’ve picked your line and you’re entering the braking zone,  there’s no sudden diving back across the circuit.

As you near a turn where the trailing vehicle may attempt an overtake, it’s crucial to assess and predict your competitor’s actions.

Nice, close racing at iRacing's latest circuit - Jerez
Nice, close racing at iRacing’s latest circuit: Jerez

Before reaching the corner’s braking zone, adjust your position to obstruct the most probable passing path, usually the inside line. When executing this defensive tactic, remember: change your direction only once—avoid swerving left and right along the straightaway to block the car behind as they seek to pass. If you alter your course and abandon the racing line, remain consistent and stay off that line.

This approach significantly minimizes the risk of collisions with other drivers. By anticipating their overtaking move early, you can act sooner, giving them time to react and adapt to your actions.

Delaying defensive blocks will result in contact: keep in mind that a closely matched pursuer will likely be operating at their limit. Consequently, once they commit to a late braking manoeuvre, they cannot back out. Should you suddenly obstruct their path after they’ve committed to passing, there’s a high likelihood of being forced wide in the turn, losing your position, or getting hit and being spun around. Any contact in iRacing is usually going to end terribly!

Allowing racing room

After you’ve made your defensive move, leave sufficient racing room for your competitor. This normally just happens naturally, however mid-corner it can be difficult to know exactly where your opponent’s car is. This is one of the vortices of danger!

This typically means maintaining a minimum of one car width between the side of your vehicle and the edge of the track for the other driver to utilize.

Allowing racing room, just about!
Allowing racing room, just about!

If you have doubts about your opponent’s skill level or they have demonstrated risky behaviour, allow them additional space. By doing so, you create a buffer zone to avoid being affected by their errors: if your competitor misjudges their braking or veers onto the grass, they’ll have some margin to correct their mistake, reducing the likelihood of involving you in an accident. Leave a bit of space and then add some more to allow for any potential net code-related incidents.

While providing racing room may seem like you’re enabling an easy pass, staying on the track and avoiding damage is crucial to maintaining your position. Demonstrating respect for your competitor often leads to reciprocated respect, fostering intense racing scenarios with wheel-to-wheel action through single or multiple turns. Ultimately, this mutual respect contributes to the thrilling racing experience we all cherish. Sometimes you even get a message after the race congratulating you on a good race. Remember how that feels!

Perfect Your Braking Technique

One key aspect of a successful defence is not succumbing to pressure. Avoid obsessing over your mirrors, and anticipating your opponent’s move, only to misjudge your braking and miss the corner. Looking behind you too much in a race costs a lot of time.

Despite the pressure, this is the moment to prove your skill. Focus on hitting your braking point accurately to get the car rotating for the turn, ensuring any speed difference between you and your competitor doesn’t result in contact. And by “speed difference” I mean don’t over-slow yourself in the corner – very few iRacers seem o be able to react in time when all of a sudden you’re driving more slowly in the mid-corner than you did for the previous few laps.

Braking for corners while maintaining a clean race is *the* skill to develop as a sim racer

Since your opponent might attempt to out-brake you, perfecting your braking point ensures you’ll make the corner, while they may not, enabling you to maintain your position.

Also, brake in a straight line. Avoid changing direction in the braking zone and ensure your paths won’t intersect. This naturally applies to the overtaking driver as well. Do everything possible to prevent contact. Altering direction while braking is extremely dangerous, as the tyres and brakes are already under stress, and any additional force or steering angle may cause the tyres to lock.

Once you’ve committed to a defensive line, stick to it and only change direction when it’s safe and won’t affect your opponent’s trajectory.

Yorkie065’s Basics of Defensive Driving (source)

Don’t defend thin air!

Experience plays a significant role in effective defensive driving. You won’t need to defend every corner, so choose your moments wisely—typically in heavier braking zones and slower corners at the end of straights. Avoid defending needlessly, respect your competitor, and promote exciting wheel-to-wheel racing while striving to maintain your position without risking damage.

Counter Defending in Sim Racing

Frustrated by an over-defending driver up the road? It’s the worst – not knowing what they’ll do next, something dangerous most likely. In any case, I found this excellent video from Unleashed Drivers that discusses how to overcome a defensive driver. Another great watch:

Stay Focused

My final tip: look ahead. The more you obsess about what might be happening behind you, the slower you go. I have lost a win in real life with exactly this mistake. Don’t let anyone intimidate you! (That includes you, Carlos!)

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How To Defend In Sim Racing